OPENING CEREMONY OF THE SPECIAL OLYMPICS 2013 ASIA PACIFIC GAMES AN INSPIRING CELEBRATION OF INCLUSION, UNDERSTANDING AND DETERMINATION
The Special Olympics 2013 Asia Pacific Games was declared open by The Governor-General of Commonwealth of Australia, Her Excellency The Honourable Quentin Bryce AC CVO, as Newcastle hosted a star-studded Opening Ceremony at Hunter Stadium.
The Opening Ceremony heralded the start of the inaugural Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games which is being staged in Newcastle until 7 December and is the biggest event in regional Australia this year. The teams were greeted with cheers from an enthusiastic crowd which greeted the smallest teams of athletes each from Cambodia and Mongolia with as much noise as the 398 athletes in the Australian team.
The Governor-General, who is Patron of Special Olympics Australia, welcomed the athletes and their families. "Tonight we come together to celebrate our athletes' remarkable sporting talents and determination to give their very best. Special Olympics athletes, I know that each and every one of you will compete with strength, determination and courage," said Her Excellency.
"You inspire us every day, you give your absolute best to overcome life's challenges - now is the time for you each to achieve your personal best on the sporting field. Athletes of the Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games, this is your time to shine."
Some of Australia's greatest entertainers performed alongside tap dancers, singers, cheerleaders, acrobats, multicultural dancers and drummers drawn from community groups around the Newcastle-Hunter region and around Australia. After Silvie Paladino's classical delivery of the Australian National Anthem and Iva Davies' haunting rendition of Great Southern Land, Marcia Hines got the party started with the help of Special Olympics dancers. Other performers included Doug Parkinson, Darren Percival, Anthony Callea, Marina Prior, Kane Alexander and The McClymonts.
Some of the brightest shining stars tonight were three Special Olympics performers - dancer Michael Wheatley took on the role of a surfer living the ultimate beachside dream; dancer Jessica Barker was centre stage for the Creative City segment and pianist Stewart Abbott's duet with Opening Ceremony Creative Director John Foreman at a grand piano had the stadium silent as they played a sensitive and tender medley of tunes.
The Athletes' Oath - "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt" - was read by Australian athlete Lorraine Archer while the Official's Oath was read by Kenn Brown and the Coaches' Oath was read by Geoff Stewart.
The ceremony reached its climax as the Law Enforcement Torch Run, which began in Sydney on Tuesday and has travelled around the Hunter Valley region to Newcastle, entered the Stadium. NSW Police Officers and Special Olympics athletes accompanied the 'Flame Of Hope' onto the field before NSW Assistant Police Commissioner Jeff Loy passed the Torch to NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione APM.
Commissioner Scipione then symbolically delivered the Flame to Australian athlete Geoffrey Kirby, marking the end of its journey with the Law Enforcement Torch Run and the beginning of the athletes' Games. Geoffrey, a swimmer from Cardiff South in the Newcastle area, was given the honour of lighting the Special Olympics 2013 Asia Pacific Games Cauldron, which was designed in the shape of the Games logo and the final 'petals' of the logo placed in position together by athletes and local performers in a representation of teamwork between Special Olympics participants and their supporters and acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities.